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Christopher Wool

Artist 222 Christopher Wool Mark making Conceptual Art

Christopher Wool (born 1955) is an American artist. Since the 1980s, Wool's art has incorporated issues surrounding post-conceptual ideas. He lives and works in New York City and Marfa, Texas, In 1973, he moved to New York City and after a short period of formal training as a painter at the New York Studio School, he dropped out and immersed himself in the world of underground film and music.

Wool is best known for his paintings of large, black, stenciled letters on white canvases. Wool began to create word paintings in the late 1980s, reportedly after having seen graffiti on a brand new white truck. Using a system of alliteration, with the words often broken up by a grid system, or with the vowels removed (as in 'TRBL' or 'DRNK'), Wool's word paintings often demand reading aloud to make sense.

His breakthrough body of work used rollers and stamps to transfer decorative patterns in severe black enamel to a white ground. His “word paintings” from the same period focused on language as image, confronting the viewer with anxious, enigmatic imperatives even as the stenciled letters disintegrate into abstract geometries.

In both cases, Wool used unexpected breakdowns in his formal systems—slips and glitches, fractured text and erratic spacing—to convey emotional states ranging from pathos to aggression. The same tension between control and disorder runs through Wool’s work of the 1990s, when he adopted the silkscreen as a primary tool. Cartoonish flowers began to multiply in dense configurations across his paintings, at times interrupted by irreverent passages of overpainting or scribbles of spray-paint that evoke an act of vandalism on a city street.

Wool’s practice has always had a porous relationship with the world outside the studio, channeling an abrasive urban vernacular. The scenes of alienation and decay collected in his photographic series make this connection explicit, their fugitive compositions resonating with the vocabulary of his paintings. Since the early 2000s, Wool has worked almost entirely with abstract forms, at once mediating and renewing the expressive potential of painting through strategies of replication, erasure, and digital manipulation. His large-scale “gray paintings” emerge from a cycle of addition and subtraction, as tangles of black lines are repeatedly wiped into fields of hazy washes.

The authority of the artist’s hand is similarly challenged when he reworks images of his own finished paintings, coolly considering them in digital form before screenprinting them to new canvases, either as deadpan reiterations or as ghostly traces collaged with other elements. For Wool, these acts of sabotage and self-negation express the position of doubt and insistent questioning that has underpinned his work from the beginning, and that continues to drive him forward in search of new ways to create a picture.

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